How to Make Your Law Firm Staff Feel Appreciated
A happy workforce is a productive workforce. When employees feel appreciated and valued, they will go the extra mile to finish a legal brief, deliver documents to a courthouse, and answer your law firm telephones with cheerfulness and compassion.
The intrinsic value of satisfied law firm staff cannot be overstated. When a potential client calls your firm or walks into your office reception area, they can sense the atmosphere and assess within minutes whether your law firm is the one they want to represent them.
Law firms are built around relationships – between staff, attorneys, clients, and referral partners. Staffing turnover and negative reputations cause strain on relationships, loss of experience, a tarnished brand, and lower revenues.
Overlooking employee morale and staff development opportunities is a blind spot that must be avoided. So, take time intermittently to pause, consider the human environment you’re working in, and look for ways to make your law firm staff feel appreciated.
A satisfied employee is not just a retained employee but an ambassador for the brand, internally and externally.
Negative Impacts of a Poor Law Firm Culture
There are hidden costs of a poor law firm culture when staff don’t feel appreciated. Whether financial or emotional, these costs impact a law firm’s bottom line.
Right now in America, there are 11 million job openings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means there are 1.9 jobs available for every unemployed worker. So, workers can afford to be choosy. You are competing with law firms down the street and across town for scarce legal talent. If a staff member feels unappreciated at your law firm, there are plenty of other jobs to choose from. In some cases, losing one or two employees causes stress and negative job satisfaction to spread to others. This can turn into a downward spiral, resulting in a mass exodus of staff.
A marginal amount of staff turnover is normal – employees move out of state, have babies, develop serious health problems, get divorced and relocate, seek higher education, and decide to stay home to care for aging parents. These are outside your control. But there are things within your control that can enhance employee appreciation and reduce staff turnover.
Increased Training Costs
With increased turnover comes increased training costs. According to the Association of Training Development, organizations spend, on average, $1,252 per employee on training and development. If you make this investment to train a new employee, only to have that person leave your firm 9 months later, then you’ve lost your investment.
Discouraged and unmotivated workers spend more time complaining at the water cooler than they do getting work done at their desks. They count the minutes on the clock, put on their coats at 4:30 p.m., and are ready to bolt out the door. Businesses that score in the top half for employee engagement enjoy a 50% higher success rate in productivity outcomes. Efficiency declines when workers feel unappreciated.
An unhappy and chronically stressed workforce leads not only to lower productivity but also to plummeting morale. While some uncertainty and change are unavoidable in today’s inflationary economy, clear communication, signs of appreciation, and words of reassurance to staff go a long way in maintaining morale.
Poor Ratings & Negative Reviews
Job seekers listen to other employees when determining whether they want to work at your firm. They look at reviews and comments from current and past employees on hiring platforms like Glassdoor, Indeed and elsewhere. When hiring in today’s tight labor market, the last thing you want are ratings and reviews labeling your firm as a tedious, disincentivizing, and unrewarding place to work.
Negative employee reviews can damage your law firm’s reputation, diminishing your perceived trustworthiness and credibility.
Excellent Ways to Show Your Staff That You Appreciate Them
Employee retention is a hot topic right now as companies struggle to find qualified, hard-working talent to fill job openings. Not only is wage growth creating tough competition for excellent employees (wages in the U.S. grew 7.86% in January 2023 over the same time the previous year), but job satisfaction is increasingly important among all workers. According to a Workplace Insight report, 80% of people say feeling appreciated is essential to their happiness at work. Feeling appreciated was the No. 1 motivator, outstripping salary (58%) as an indicator of job satisfaction.
It’s simply more enjoyable to arrive at work every day when you feel like part of an effective team whose members respect and appreciate each other. This ensures day-to-day well-being and workplace enjoyment.
If you’re wondering how to make your law firm staff feel appreciated, following are some great ideas:
It’s a good idea to close the office for a day once or twice a year and have an employee celebration event. It can be an on-site barbeque, a day at the beach, a festive holiday party, or a company picnic at a local park where employees can bring their families to eat and play. Whatever the event, it’s a time to forget about work and enjoy each other’s company.
Positive Feedback and Affirmations
Many attorneys struggle with offering staff positive feedback. There’s an old school mentality of toughness, pushing through, hard work, and attention to detail in the legal field. It’s the same mentality, especially in very large law firms, that requires new associates to work 80-hour weeks.
Attorneys don’t brag about being soft and cuddly — they scream about being tough and aggressive. This is great in the courtroom but can be toxic for team members … those very team members that attorneys rely on for support. Creating a culture of positivity, affirmation, and appreciation should start with ALL the attorneys in a firm setting the example.
It might be surprising to some how important a pleasant workspace is to many employees. Poor lighting, malfunctioning equipment, outdated chairs and office furniture, and poor ventilation can leave staff feeling burdened. Do a workspace survey and ask employees what they feel could be improved to make their jobs easier. Often simple, relatively inexpensive fixes – additional lamps, an area rug, new office chairs, and a remodeled bathroom — can really brighten and enhance a workspace.
Technology is evolving at the speed of light, and it’s critical to provide employees with the right technology to work smarter and more efficiently. According to a recent study, 79% of employees say that having the right tools and technology to do their jobs properly is a leading factor in their feeling appreciated at work, yet only 55% report that they have this. Set aside an amount in your firm’s annual budget to upgrade computers, servers, phone systems, intake software, and other items.
The right technology can enable employees to work flexibly if you’re in a hybrid environment. Increasingly, hybrid working conditions is a huge plus among workers. The right technology can also enable you to maximize all available office space while still creating room for quiet and communal areas.
While money isn’t everything to employees, it is important. Let’s face it — you can be the nicest attorney in your market, but if you don’t pay your team members appropriately, they won’t stay long. Soon, all those nice team members you worked so hard to hire and train will be working at your competitors’ firms. Don’t get into bidding wars or overpay for talent (that is the other, unhealthy side of the pendulum). But know what your employees are worth and stay abreast of salary benchmarks. Know what pay is appropriate for a position and then be generous, be kind.
Know Your Employees
Everyone likes to be known as a human being. It’s not just about work. Being “seen” as a person is just as important as being rewarded for a job well done. Get to know what’s important to each of your employees. Learn their spouses’ and children’s names; ask about their pets; remember their birthdays; notice when they buy a new house or have a baby; and congratulate them when one of their children gets married or is accepted into college. These things are important in the lives of others. Some attorneys are naturals at remembering these important events. Others struggle to remember today’s date. It’s okay to ask for help. Ask a paralegal or your firm’s administrator to help you remember by sending you quick updates about staff. This enables you to pop your head in someone’s door, send a text or email, and congratulate them on the big news.
Swag can be a fun complement to celebrating a firm’s accomplishments and milestones. Logoed sweatshirts, insulated mugs, golf balls, and other items can be a light-hearted way to celebrate achieving revenue goals or firm anniversaries. You can even engage the team by allowing them to vote on which swag they like best. It’s important for employees to celebrate together and build a team culture around pride. Company swag isn’t just a gift for clients or prospects — it’s also a flag for the team to rally around.
Many employees have goals for their careers and value opportunities for professional development. This might include opportunities for an off-site seminar, continuing education, a path to promotion, or a lateral job move that more closely suits their skills and aspirations. It’s important to pay attention to what your employees do well. Look for ways to match an employee’s strengths with the projects you assign them. Set them up for success. Also, practice listening. Really hear what an employee is telling you about their career aspirations and ideas. Find ways to encourage employee feedback and implement good ideas and suggestions.
Take Your Staff to the Next Level
To create an ideal company culture and inspire greatness, attorneys and managing partners at law firms must be living and breathing examples of the ideals they want their staff to embrace. You can’t say one thing and do another. You can’t say you value employees but then ignore them, be stingy with pay raises, or create a culture of fear and unease.
You must embody openness, good communication, and empathy. Look for ways to acknowledge employee contributions and publicly thank and congratulate them. Give them the technology tools, pleasant workspace, and equipment they need to excel. Offer positive feedback and affirmations that make them feel worthy and good about their contributions. By doing these simple things, you can lead your staff to the next level of satisfaction and performance.
Gladiator Law Marketing is an award-winning legal marketing agency that exemplifies best practices in employee appreciation and client service. To learn more about what we offer, contact us at 859-203-4572.
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